Monday, May 4, 2015

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Guitars and saxes aplenty. Taking a closer look at CDs by Russell Malone, Hailey Niswanger, Bjørn Solli, Dave Stryker and Doug Webb….

Russell Malone, Love Looks Good on You (HighNote)
Russell Malone, who cut his jazz teeth collaborating with Jimmy Smith, Harry Connick Jr. and Diana Krall, is one of the finest and most versatile guitarists of his generation. And here’s proof. This quartet session contains a terrific blend of material on which Malone puts his own artful stamp. He’s joined by pianist Rick Germanson, bassist Gerald Cannon and drummer Willie Jones III. Favorites: their takes on Malone’s title-track ballad, Isaac Hayes’ “Ellie’s Love Theme” (from the movie Shaft), George Coleman’s “Amsterdam After Dark” and Freddie Hubbard’s “Sweet Sioux.”

Hailey Niswanger, PDX Soul (Calmit)

Fine young saxophonist Hailey Niswanger’s second recording as a leader honors the soulful side of her musical roots growing up in Portland, Oregon. Niswanger (pronounced “NICE-wonger”) brought together 16 Portland-based musicians for this recording. The band included trumpeter Thara Memory, Niswanger’s mentor and producer of this CD, and keyboard player Janice Scroggins, who passed away in May 2014. 

Niswanger included five fine originals and three covers of soul classics. Standout tracks include her own “Say What It Is” and the hard-driving “You Should Know”; plus Dyke and The Blazers’ “Let a Woman be a Woman, Let a Man Be a Man” and Al Green’s “Take Me to the River.” The latter features vocals by LaRhonda Steele. PDX Soul is drenched with soul and top-flight musicality.

Bjørn Solli, Aglow: The Lyngør Project Volume 1 (Lyngør)

This is an impressionistic jazz masterpiece that you ought not to miss. Norwegian guitarist Bjørn Solli ‘s music focuses on the beauty, history and beautiful people of Lyngør, an archgipelago south of Norway. He has fallen in love with the locale since first visiting in 2007 and has performed annual concerts there with visiting musicians for several summers. Commissioned by the Lyngør Jazz Club, the project’s material was inspired by and written on Lyngør, and recorded in New York with some of his favorite jazz players. He composed the material with the sound of each player in mind.

The band includes Solli, saxophonist Seamus Blake (on soprano and tenor), trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, pianist Aaron Parks, bassist Matt Clohesy and drummer Bill Stewart. Favorites: “Calenture,” “August at Last,” and “A Dog Named Fanny.” “Windjammer” is a wonderful extended showcase for Solli’s shimmering style. On Volume 2, Solli plans to reverse his approach, by arranging a variety of jazz standards and recording them on Lyngør.

Dave Stryker, Messin’ With Mister T (Strikezone)

Guitarist Dave Stryker has put together a gem of a recording in this tribute to his late boss, tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine. All of the material comes from set lists Turrentine used during the decade+ that Stryker worked with him. Stryker assembled his organ trio (with Jared Gold on B-3, McClenty Hunter on drums), with percussionist Mayra Casales guesting on six tracks, to support one track apiece from ten top-notch jazz tenor saxophonists. 

They include Houston Person, Mike Lee (a veteran of other Stryker ensembles), Don Braden, Jimmy Heath, Chris Potter, Bob Mintzer, Eric Alexander, Javon Jackson, longtime Stryker collaborator Steve Slagle and Tivon Pennicott.  Gems include Potter’s take on “Impressions,” Jackson’s version of Turrentine’s beloved original “Sugar” and Alexander’s fresh take on Milton Nascimento’s “Salt Song.” Also dig Heath’s balladry on Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood.” This project is strong from start to finish. Bravo.

Doug Webb, Triple Play (Posi-Tone)

If you’re a hard-core tenor sax fan, this one’s for you. L.A.-based Doug Webb teamed with Joel Frahm and Walt Weiskopf for this triple-tenor recording, on which they’re nimbly supported by rising stars Brian Charette on organ and Rudy Royston on drums. They tackle a variety of jazz standards and originals (two apiece from Webb and Weiskopf, one from Frahm).The many gems include their takes on “Avalon,” ”I Concentrate on You” and Lou Donaldson’s burner, “Alligator Boogaloo,” as well as Weiskopf’s “Three’s a Crowd” and Lanny Morgan’s “Pail Blues.” There’s plenty of solo space to share, but they also excel at shout choruses and a saxophone choir feel as needed.

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